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Holy Land Pilgrimage

Visiting Magdala

February 18, 2019

During Jesus’ lifetime, Magdala became a flourishing fishing and boat-building town along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus would have ministered to being on the lake and so close to the Via Maris trading route which passes nearby.

It was that way for several decades, at least, before it was destroyed in 67 AD by the Roman General Vespasian. It wasn’t fully uncovered until a pilgrimage center began construction in 2009, beginning with a mandatory excavation period, during which a first-century synagogue was revealed. Later, the rest of the town was exposed and made available for pilgrims to see, complete with a marketplace, homes, and purity washing baths.

This day was a perfect way to start back up our site visits after our diaconate retreat, for four main reasons:

Firstly, Mary Magdalene, who lived in Magdala, was a close disciple of Jesus and the one who in Luke Chapter 7 washed his feet with an alabaster flask of ointment, drying them with her own hair. A Pharisee named Simon questioned why Jesus allowed her—known to be a great sinner—to do so, and the Lord explained how the one who is forgiven much loves much, calling out Simon for not loving him enough to anoint his head, give him water, or greet him when he came in the house. The schola sang a Communion meditation on this scene about Mary of Magdala titled “Drop, Drop, Slow Tears.” This is one song I was really looking forward to singing, as the words are very beautiful.

Secondly, the altar in the Magdala Boat Chapel was modeled after St. Peter’s boat, and the theme for our retreat was John 21, when Peter jumps out of his boat once Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. After eating breakfast together, Jesus asks for Peter’s three-fold love, giving him the opportunity to reconcile after his three-fold denial before the Crucifixion. Jesus then gives him the great task of tending his flock, something we are going to partake in as ordained ministers.

Thirdly, since there was an atrium with eight stone pillars commemorating the women disciples of Jesus, past and present, we offered Mass particularly for the women in our lives and for those who support the mission of the Church. We also considered those who helped us in prayer and support for our vocation and took time to give thanks for them.

Lastly, the main building in Magdala—home to the atrium, six chapels, and numerous mosaics and paintings depicting Galilean Biblical scenes—is titled “Duc In Altum.” These words were given by Jesus to the disciples to drop their nets into the deep to catch a great number of fish. As Bishop Barron explained to us why he chose these words to go above the altar in the Mundelein house chapel, they can mean “into the deep” or “to the heights,” both conveying a confident urgency of going out on Christian mission. How fitting it was, then, that we next ascended “to the heights” of Mount Arbel. After first appearing to Mary Magdalene near the tomb, Jesus had her give the disciples instructions that they should meet him in Galilee. It was possibly on this cliff towering over the north-western shores of the lake that Jesus met his disciples and gave them the Great Commission to preach and baptize throughout the whole world. We will be doing the same as deacons, so this was a perfect place to meditate on what received in the retreat and what we are next approaching.

Kevin Ripley

Diocese of Green Bay

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